As Atlantic Season Opens, Kirk and Other Owners Eye Spanning USA With Two Eight-Team Divisions
When Sugar Land inaugurated its lavish new ballpark near Houston on Thursday, the Skeeters helped usher in the 20th season of this improbable success known as Independent Baseball. Two decades of professional play apart from the major leagues is quite an accomplishment for those who have given their sweat and their dollars, but I feel I can safely say that won’t be foremost on the minds of the Sugar Land brass or anyone in the Atlantic League hierarchy, which is starting its 15th season.
The launch of Sugar Land is a milestone in that it give Frank Boulton’s league its first team west of Pennsylvania; the beginning of a Southwest Division. But that is a mere stepping stone for the blueprint of this league that caters to what it likes to call “major league-ready” players.
Peter Kirk, the mastermind behind Sugar Land and at least three other existing Atlantic League teams as chairman of Opening Day Partners, and the league itself have much bigger things in mind, as he revealed from $36 million Constellation Field this week.
They want “two eight-team divisions” and “the need for a league championship,” Kirk said, in a revealing statement about the goals of the league, which likely will have another few dozen of its veteran players obtained by the 30 major league organizations within the six-month season.
The Atlantic League has eight teams now, and it wants four more as soon as the cities that meet the criteria of a new 6,000-seat stadium can be secured. One will be needed in the east to round out one eight-team league and three more in Texas or nearby for a four-team division of its own.
“Once we’ve absorbed that (expansion)” it will be Westward Ho for four more teams to finish the 16-team landscape,” Kirk explained. It could be “California or wherever”. The ODP boss, who now has been involved in the opening of 15 baseball stadiums around the country, told us the 16-team setup “has been sort of a dream. We now believe it is possible.”
Gathright Praises Canseco’s Conditioning and Strength
The biggest name as well as one of the bigger bodies the Can-Am League will have when its season opens May 17 belongs to onetime Hall of Fame shoo-in Jose Canseco, who will play for new Manager Chip Plante with the Worcester (MA) Tornadoes. I asked veteran major leaguer Joey Gathright for a scouting report on the current day playing talent of Canseco, who turns 48 on July 2, since he played with and for player-Manager Canseco in Yuma, AZ (North American League) much of last season.
“He is in great shape and still very strong,” said Gathright, who will patrol centerfield this season with Bridgeport, CT (Atlantic League). “He can still hit, and hit it a long way. He has a lot left in the tank”. Gathright, who turns 31 Friday, admitted “I don’t think he can run like he used to”.
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Look Out for Indy Duo of Savage and Rice in PC
Will Savage and Scott Rice may not have known each other when they were Independent players, but they have an early start toward becoming quite a pairing with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top farm club in Albuquerque, NM. Savage is 4-0 for the Isotopes and Rice has four saves with three of them in the same games.
Savage, who spent most of ’09 with Wichita, KS in the American Association and pitched briefly for Lancaster, PA in the Atlantic League, now sports a 2.41 ERA for 18.2 innings. Rice, the lefty who almost stuck with the parent Dodgers this spring, worked a good portion of both ’09 (Long Island, NY, and Newark, NJ) and last season (York, PA) in the Atlantic League, has a 4.35 ERA for nine games.
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Fans may subscribe for 2012 at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy his blogs, www.AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com and www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT.)